Monday, October 21, 2019

Supporting Research Into Quality of Life after Spinal Cord Injuries

The research happening at MedStar NRH is broad. It can be part of a rehbilitation trial, or in the case of the recent award from DoD to Suzanne Groah, MD, MSPH, it can focus on conditions that are a result of spinal cord injury.

This work is in follow up to earlier pilot work that Dr. Groah led at MNRH. This most recent work is funded through a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense - Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs. Her team will conduct focused research for patients who are living with spinal cord injuries and neurogenic bladder, with a focus on urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Dr. Suzanne Groah and members of her research team

UTIs are the most common outpatient infection world-wide. For patients with spinal cord injuries, they can be especially concerning. The research has three aims, including clinical ideitifcaiton of markers to help diagnosis UTIs in those with spinal cord injuries and the pilot clinical trial to help reduce symptoms and potentially prevent urinary tract infection.

You can read the full press release on the MHRI website.

Congratulations to Dr. Groah and team for their focused work on patient outcomes and quality of life!

This post is part of my series on MHRI's funding success in FY20. You can view all the blogs associated with the series here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

2019 MedStar-Georgetown Summer Student Capstone

Each summer, MedStar Health and Georgetown University collaborate to provide medical students the opportunity to participate in research. These students are funded through scholarships, including the Pines-Kleinman Fund, the Pellegrini Fund, and the Dean’s Office at Georgetown School of Medicine.

For these rising second-year medical students, the eight weeks they spend over the summer may be their first foray into research. In some cases, this program may inform their decision of how they would like to grow as a medical student and their future career trajectory.

We were proud to host those summer students, their mentors, and the greater research and academic community at the Summer Student Capstone at the Fenech Embassy.

This year, over 200 members of the MedStar-Georgetown community joined us to celebrate student research.  91 students presented their research to small group audiences. MedStar’s Dr. Munish Goyal, who oversee’s the summer program, shared the stage with Dean Joe Timpone and Dean Stephen Ray Michell to welcome the attendees and presenters.

Congratulations to all the students and mentors!

Working Towards Improving Diagnostic Safety

Expanding the focus of research and innovation, MedStar is also contributing to contracts to support patient safety and outcomes in understanding and improving diagnostic safety.

20 years ago, the US Institute of Medicine released a milestone book, To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System, which created an entire movement based on patient safety. At MedStar, our Institute for Quality and Safety (MIQS) is helping to drive meaningful change in outcomes for all patients, not just those within our walls.

Dr. Christine A. Goeschel
One of the awards received by MedStar Health in the beginning of our fiscal 2020 year includes a contract from the Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ) to develop novel resources, tools and programs aimed at reducing diagnostic errors and related patient harm.  Led at MedStar by Dr. Christine A. Goeschel, the team will collaborate with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX. Our diversified healthcare delivery system provides an environment for researchers to work side by side with providers, patients, and administrators to understand real-world diagnostic challenges, and then work collaboratively improve diagnostic processes and outcomes.

Congratulations to Dr. Goeschel and the MIQS team on their award and for their commitment to caring for our patients.

You can read the full press release here.

This post is part of my series on MHRI's funding success in FY20. You can view all the blogs associated with the series here.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Analyzing the Nation’s Largest Patient Safety Database

In my “series” on great funding news for the first quarter of the 2020 financial year, I’d like to congratulate Raj Ratwani, PhD, and the collaborative team from the MedStar Health National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare on their multi-year project with the state of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Raj Ratwani
When we talk of funding sources, we mostly think of federal grant awards or commercial studies. This award is from Pennsylvania's Patient Safety Authority. Pennsylvania is the only state in the U.S. that requires healthcare facilities to report events that could potentially cause harm to patients, as well as events that have been shown to cause harm.

Over several years, the team will analyze the largest patient safety database in the country. They will be using machine learning algorithms to quickly identify areas where improvements can be applied to shape the future of safe and effective patient care within the state.

You can read the full release on this award here.

This post is part of my series on MHRI's funding success in FY20. You can view all the blogs associated with the series here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Celebrating Our Growth in Research

Over the first quarter of the academic year (July through September 2019), MedStar Health Research Institute has had a record number of new grants and contracts with our investigators obtaining awards worth over $30 million! This is a testament to the great work we are doing and the talented research teams doing them. It is also a tribute to our building reputation as a great place in which to conduct research, from clinical trials to healthcare delivery research assessing quality, safety and patient outcomes. As I review these new awards, I am in awe of the diversity of talent, from research studies in patients with spinal cord injuries to cardiovascular trials to human factors work in diagnostic errors. Many of these awards are for multi-year projects and many of them have potential for additional sub-projects or extensions.

This work wouldn’t be possible without the support of the entire MHRI team. Our investigators, the research teams working with them, the scientific center administrative directors, the office of contracts and grants management, the IRB, finance partners and every team member around the system are integral to our continued growth.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some updates on the projects that have been funded so you can learn about some of our new studies and congratulate the research team. Join me in congratulating these investigators and their teams!

Monday, October 7, 2019

There is More to Life Than Being Happy

Below is my monthly message for the October 2019 edition of the MHRI newsletter, Focus. You can view Focus online at

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

“There is more to life than being happy”

That is the title of a
TED talk by Emily Esfahni Smith– it’s a talk I return to often, gaining something new each time which I try to incorporate into my life at home and work. It has continued to have a positive impact on my life and I would like to share it with you today.

Many people believe that the whole purpose of life is pursuing happiness. What’s more, many equate happiness with having the ideal job, perfect boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse, or a beautiful home. The pursuit of happiness becomes a pursuit of these ‘things’. However, the data from multiple studies has shown that chasing happiness in this way ironically makes people unhappy! In fact, it often leads to an emptiness bringing people to ask ‘is this all there is?’

Happiness is defined as a state of comfort and ease which lets you feel good in the moment. The key word in that definition is ‘moment’. The things we equate with happiness do not give long-term fulfillment. Emily Esfahni Smith makes the compelling point that seeking meaning in life is a more fulfilling path. Meaning is defined as belonging to and serving something beyond yourself and developing the best within you. In fact, data (yes – science!!) shows that those seeking meaning are more resilient, do better in school/work and even live longer!

So, how can we live a more meaningful life? She feels there are 4 pillars to having a meaningful life:
  • Belonging: being in relationships in which you are valued for who you are intrinsically and where you value others as well; bonds to family, friends, and colleagues
  • Purpose: less about what you want than what you give; using your strengths to serve others (e.g., raising your children or healing sick people); the ‘why’ that drives you forward
  • Transcendence: lifting yourself above the hustle and bustle of daily life, so your sense of self is connected to something higher. In one experiment (more science!) students were brought into the woods and asked to look up at 200’ tall trees for one minute. After that, tests showed they were less self-centered and gave more generously when given the chance to help someone
  • Storytelling: the story you tell yourself about yourself. We are the authors of our life story. The way we see our own life changes how we feel. She told about a man who became paraplegic from an accident. He complained about his situation, the bad break he got and being a victim. He was miserable and he reinforced his unhappiness. However, with time he started to see it differently. “Before my injury my life was purposeless. I partied a lot and was selfish. My injury made me realize I can be a better man.” After telling the new story, he discovered the best within himself, started to mentor kids, and learned that his purpose was serving others.

On the most recent MHRI associate survey, when asked about what people enjoy most about work, the most common answers were ‘the people I work with’ and ‘the gratifying work we are doing at MedStar’. Those answers demonstrate belonging and purpose. The nature of research (and healthcare) requires a multidisciplinary team which means it is a field that is higher than any one individual.

We are all very fortunate to be in a profession where we are given the opportunity to easily embrace three of the pillars of meaning (belonging, purpose, and transcendence). The last pillar, however, is up to you. What story do you tell yourself about your professional journey? The easy path is to fixate on what does not work rather than having gratitude for what you do have. This TED talk reminds me that the way we tell our own story, how we view our own experience, helps us discover our purpose and meaning in life. Meaning gives fulfillment to life, even when daily events can make happiness in the moment wax and wane.

For me, meaning comes from the sum of healthcare + MedStar + advancing health through research, education and innovation.

Thank you for being part of meaning at MedStar - long-term fulfillment through the work we do together and the impact we have on our community.
P.S. Mark your calendars now for Monday, April 6, 2020, for the 2020 MedStar Health-Georgetown University Research Symposium! View the flyer here.

Read Focus at

Friday, September 27, 2019

An HBO Documentary Comes to MedStar Health

Guest Blogger
Katie Carlin, MBA
Senior Director, Business Development and Planning
MedStar Institute for Quality and Safety (MIQS)
September 19 is an evening I will never forget. MedStar Health welcomed writer, comedian and director, Steve Burrows to lead a screening of his award-winning HBO documentary, Bleed Out. The harrowing film follows the personal journey of the Burrows family after a routine hip replacement surgery leaves Steve’s mother, Judie, in a coma with permanent brain damage. What starts as a personal video diary becomes a 10-year account of the deep problems of America’s current healthcare system with a focus on medical error – the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

Confronted with agonizing “deny and defend” practices by the treating healthcare system, the documentary serves as a reminder of the importance of transparency and open and honest communication with patients and families.  At MedStar, we work hard every day to establish a culture of safety and high reliability and after viewing Bleed Out we are reminded just how important it is to “do the right thing.” After viewing the film, Steve and his wife Margo took part in a poignant question and answer session and most memorable, received a standing ovation from the MedStar leaders for their courageous work.

For me personally, I reflect on the evening with great pride as it reinforces the resilient vision and effort of our leaders, nurses, doctors, front-line staff, and quality and safety researchers who help MedStar continually improve - CANDOR implementation, “We Want to Know,” Improving Patient Safety in Primary Care, and many other quality and safety research projects that extend across the National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare, MHRI, Mi2, and MIQS are a testament to MedStar’s unique research and innovation environment.

For Steve, this is what he had to say:
“We were utterly astonished to receive a standing ovation for BLEED OUT from the esteemed doctors and executives that make up the MedStar leadership.

And we are moved by MedStar's incredible philosophy in how they practice medicine. This is how it's supposed be, folks. It was an evening we will NEVER forget. #WeStandWithJudie”

I encourage you to see the film – available on HBO and Amazon Prime and reach out to the MedStar Institute for Quality and Safety ( if you would like to bring a screening to your site!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

2020 MedStar Health-Georgetown University Research Symposium

Mark your calendars now for the 2020 MedStar Health-Georgetown University Research Symposium on April 6, 2020, at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. This annual event supports our continuous effort to become a leading academic health system, while celebrating innovation, inspiration and investment in research and academics.


The Research Symposium showcases the diverse and wide-ranging research activities of investigators, residents and associates from across our system. More than 1,000 guests attended this year’s event, which featured 400 abstracts and highlighted our unique partnership with Georgetown University in building a collaborative academic community.  

The 2020 Research Symposium is a full-day event, beginning with presentations from educators in the health professions, followed by educational sessions hosted by experts from MedStar and Georgetown University. Resident oral presentations, scientific poster presentations and speakers take place from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the main ballroom.


From bench to bedside and into the community, our research and education efforts are advancing health and providing better and more effective care for our patients.


Thank you for planning to attend this important event that supports our ability to serve our patients, those who care for them, and our communities.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

McCourt School of Public Policy - Georgetown Medical Center - MedStar Health

Together with Dean Maria Cancian, I had the pleasure of co-hosting a faculty collaboration dinner between Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown Medical Center and MedStar Health.  This dinner brought together twenty of the nation’s leading researchers across both organizations in areas such as health policy, health law, health economics, health equity, social determinants of health, health insurance, access to care, health services research, high-risk and under served populations, outcomes research and healthcare utilization.

As I listened to each faculty member share their research interests, the pride in the work being done by our research community was overwhelming! Dean Cancian and I are excited about the new connections made, budding collaborations, and the tremendous opportunities that will come from bringing the broader Georgetown - MedStar research together in such a meaningful way.  We’ve already identified opportunities for collaboration including data linkage, pilot projects, large grant proposals, and policy analyses.

I am excited about the future and so pleased to have new partners such as Dean Cancian.  A special thanks to John Monahan for initiating the introduction and for his vision of broader collaboration across campus-health system!

Cerner Research Leadership Forum

Last week Cerner, one of the largest electronic health record (EHR) companies, brought together research leaders from healthcare systems across the country that use the Cerner EHR.  During this meeting, Cerner shared information about 'next generation' EHR's and then, with the help of scientific advisors from Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI), made the case for the need for pragmatic research and evidence adoption.  Then, they offered up a solution: An EHR-enabled Learning Health Network. By using some of the new functionality Cerner has built, to share de-identified data in a secure manner without burdening the local sites, there is potential for the Cerner healthcare systems to come together to collaborate on research.  This is an exciting possibility which can support investigator-initiated studies, multi-study clinical trials and population science.

In the picture above, I took part in a panel discussion discussing the potential uses and barriers for such a Learning Health Research Network with the DCRI leaders, Drs. Ann Marie Navar and Eric Peterson (both cardiologists by the way!) and Dr.James Breeling from the Veterans Health Administration who is installing Cerner across all the VA hospitals.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Research Compliance Resources

What do you think of when you think “research support”? Most would probably think of funding searches, proposal support, IRB requirements. At MedStar, part of that is also Research Compliance.

We’ve launched a new page on our MHRI website with all you need to know about research compliance at MedStar. You can view the page here:

Check back soon as we are working to include FAQs on many of the topics listed to make your work as researchers easier. If you have questions, you can contact the Research Compliance Program at

Monday, September 9, 2019

Team Building for Pre- and Post-Award Associatesat MHRI

It was several years ago that we talked about research as a team sport at our fall town halls. With MHRI associates located at multiple sites in a variety of roles, it can be hard to identify who is playing on the team.
Tina Stanger, Assistant Vice President, Research Administration, and Grant Gonzalez, Director, Financial Operations, oversee the pre- and post-award contracts and financial process for research at MedStar. This includes our contracts & grants team, the sponsored award administrators, and the finance team. They work closely with clinical research revue cycle team.
This internal team is also supported by members of the corporate team, mostly from the corporate finance team. Tina & Grant brought together all their team members with our collaborators to close out the last fiscal year as a team and start off the new fiscal year on a positive note.
In addition to the meeting, they also took the time to connect with each other and play a rousing game of Family Feud on the Wii!

Some members of the winning team with their trophy

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Fresh Starts and New Perspectives

Below is my monthly message for the September 2019 edition of the MHRI newsletter, Focus. You can view Focus online at

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Happy Labor Day weekend!

It is officially the end of summer and the start of the new school year. As the kids go back to school and reunite with their friends, the classic opening line is ‘what did you do this summer?’ Vacation? Travel? A new project? Maybe you finally got a chance to clean out the closet or fix that leaky sink. Or did you go for some down-time by the water and enjoy a new book? Summer seems to be a time to explore new things, catch up on life and expand our horizons.

Last week I returned from a fun and fascinating trip to Vietnam. It gave me a whole new perspective on what is possible.

I was invited to present at the Vietnam national cardiology conference, visit some of their hospitals and lecture at a new medical school (see pictures on my blog,
Notes from Neil). The most remarkable thing was how far their medical care has come in a relatively short period. You see, I was in the country 20 years ago, introducing cardiac ultrasound to a newly opened ‘Heart Hospital’ in Hanoi. Since then, they have left a third world-medical environment that operated with very limited technology, few medications, ‘open’ hospital design with one big room per hospital floor, and with medical knowledge a full generation behind.

Hanoi now has 2 Heart Hospitals (each with approximately 400 beds dedicated to cardiology), a modern cardiac surgery and interventional program, and some state-of-the-art machines. This transformation became very personal when I met Dr. Hoai Nguyen, the Vice Director of Bach Mai Hospital (Vietnam National Heart Institute). I first met Dr. Nguyen 20 years ago when I went there to help train them on their first cardiac ultrasound machine; she now has a fully functional lab with 16 machines and 8 physicians, doing more ultrasounds than most US hospitals! And it is not just the technology – the digital age and accessibility of knowledge via the internet has allowed these medical professionals to be among the brightest and most up-to-date doctors I have met anywhere. They have done all of this with a national medical program serving over 90 million people (in a country the size of California) with a cap on expenditure at approximately $3000 per patient per year. While that means there are still ‘wards’ with a dozen patients in one room, the quality of care is impressive. In short, I was inspired by their dedication, hard work, and reluctance to settle for second-class medicine despite continued headwinds. What I learned from the experience is that if there is the will, there is a way!

I hope your summer was refreshing, in some manner, for your body and/or mind. I look forward to the start of the new ‘school-year’ and the things we will learn together.

P.S. Mark your calendars now for Monday, April 6, 2020, for the 2020 MedStar Health-Georgetown University Research Symposium! View the flyer here.

Read Focus at

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Labor Day 2019

This Labor Day, please join us in recognizing our associates, and all MedStar Health assocaites, for their hard work and dedication to advancing patient care. We appreciate all that they do!

Have a happy, healthy, and safe Labor Day!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Celebrating SPIRIT

Each quarter at MHRI, we select a recipient for our SPIRIT of Excellence Award. This award is for an assocaite who explifies the the MedStar Health SPIRIT values (Service, Parient first, Innovative, Respect, Integrity, Teamwork). 

This week, Dr Jamie Padmore (VP of Academic Affairs) and I presented the award to Allison Selman-Lovell, the program lead for research & education initiatives.  I have had the pleasure of working directly with Allison for several years and was particularly pleased to see her receive this distinction. Allison oversee’s several different programs, especially ones that link MedStar research and education to Georgetown. She single handedly makes sure everything is organized and runs smoothly for the MedStar Teaching Scholars, the MedStar Research Scholars, the Georgetown-MedStar summer research internships and the joint research and educational councils, just to name a few. Yes, Allison is very, very busy!  

However, Allison did not receive this award for WHAT she does but rather for HOW she does it. Everyday, Allison comes to work with a smile inside and out. No matter what is happening that day, regardless of how busy things get, she is always willing to help out. Her positive attitude is uplifting and infectious. Allison always puts others first and makes sure any issue is completely resolved. In the last few years she has touched hundreds and hundreds of people, showing them the best of MHRI!

THANK YOU Allison for being who you are and sharing that throughout MHRI and Georgetown!  And congratulations!

For the first quarter of the calendar year, for the first time, we presented the award to a team. You can read about the Ryan White team here.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Advances in Medical Care in Vietnam

Twenty years ago I was part of a small group of cardiologist that went to the Behn Vien Bach Mai (Vietnam National Heart Institute) to bring balloon mitral valvuloplasty (a cath lab procedure to treat mitral stenosis, a heart valve disease from rheumatic fever).  At the time, there was one person who did cardiac ultrasound and they had one machine that was about 15-20 years behind US standards.

Last week, I had the pleasure of returning to that hospital, seeing the remarkable advances (cardiac surgery, ICU's, echo lab with 16 machines and contemporary capabilities).  I also had a chance to visit a few other hospitals and a new medical school.  It was great to see medical care catapult to contemporary levels, albeit with cultural differences.  For example, there are still 'wards' with dozens of patients in one room and the need for advanced heart care at expert hospitals is still very high - to the point they continue to occasionally have 2 patients share one bed!

One thing that did not change - the people.  Everyone was friendly, professional, hospitable and gracious hosts.

Here are some pictures:

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Study Information Portal: A New Way to Find Research at MedStar

Guest Blogger:
Eva Hochberger
Communications & Planning Manager  |  Office of Research Development, Planning & Communications

I’m excited to share a new resource for finding clinical trials throughout MedStar! Several years ago, we launched our Clinical Trials Management System, OnCore, for the research that is happening across the system. One of the benefits of this system that was most interesting to me was the ability to have the information about currently enrolling trials embedded on our website.

When you click on a protocol number,
more information is available to the
user about the study.
The new Study information Portal is updated in real-time with OnCore. It allows users to browse by PI, location or age group or use the search field to find studies by research area. It’s a great resource for patients who are looking to participate in research and for clinicians to find potential studies for their patients.

If you find a study you are interested in, you can find more information by clicking on the protocol number. 

The portal is accessible directly from the MHRI homepage, with the blue button that says “Find a Trial”.

Thank you to Allie Moses, who spearheaded the project from our side, and the corporate digital team for their support in making this happen.